Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
ou know the old cliché about how when God closes a door, he opens a window? Well, while there are no doubt still some “Moonlight” fans crying themselves to sleep over their favorite broadcast network vampire being staked after only a single season, at least the open-minded vampire fans had the opportunity to transfer their fandom over to HBO’s “True Blood.”
Based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlaine Harris and executive-produced by Alan Ball (“American Beauty,” “Six Feet Under”), “True Blood” posits a world where vampires not only exist but are public knowledge, thereby making them into a minority. It’s one of those alternate universes that often finds itself veering into parody with its attempts to show parallels between other minorities – specifically, underlining the similarities between the treatment of vampires and gays to the point of making vampire marriage legal in Vermont – but it’s a semi-necessary evil, since it helps paint the picture of the intolerance toward the fanged undead. (If that’s not the politically correct term, then it’ll do in a pinch.)
Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is a waitress who has the ability to read minds. It’s a surprise to her, then, when a dark, handsome stranger named Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) strolls into her place of employment (Merlotte’s) and projects a total blank to her abilities. You will be unsurprised to learn that this is because he’s a vampire. He’s been one since before to the Civil War, though within minutes of his appearance in the show, it briefly looks as though he’s about to finish his tenure. See, it turns out that vampire blood is a hot commodity in the underground, and two rednecks have decided to use Bill to make themselves a profit. Fortunately, Sookie steps in, saves Bill’s life, and – what’s this? – sparks begin to fly between the two of them.
“True Blood” is set in Louisiana. Not to unfairly generalize about any particular region, but you can probably imagine how well a human / vampire relationship would go over down yonder, and your suspicions prove accurate on the show. The only person who easily accepts Sookie’s relationship with Bill is her grandmother, Adele (Lois Smith), whose interest is simply in her granddaughter finding someone who’ll treat her right. Otherwise, Sookie’s stuck hearing the awful thoughts of everyone who sets foot into Merlotte’s – and, boy, are they awful.
But despite this lengthy build up of the Sookie / Bill love story, there’s more to “True Blood” than these two characters. It’s very much an ensemble show. Sookie’s brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), is known as the town fuck-up, and he spends a great deal of the first season making good on his reputation; Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is Sookie’s boss, and having harbored a crush on her for some time now, he doesn’t handle her new romance very well. Speaking of crushes, Tara Thornten (Rutina Wesley) is Sookie’s best friend, and in her own way, she’s almost as much of a fuck-up as Jason, so it’s no wonder that she’s got a thing for him; almost as colorful a character is her cousin, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis), the cook at Merlotte’s, who’s a gay, drug-dealing prostitute. (Don’t worry: he sounds like a cliché, but he’s actually kind of a badass.)
It’s difficult to talk in too much detail about “True Blood” without giving away a great deal of the plot, and it would be unfair to do that just as the show is coming onto DVD, since not everyone subscribes to HBO. Still, we can note some of the pros and cons, and in the former category, it must be said that the show is right up there with “Lost” for coming up with the best episode-ending cliffhangers on television. No matter how you may feel about the events leading up to these moments, you’ll almost always find yourself gasping at the conclusion of each episode. Within the episodes themselves, however, it’s fair to say that you may also do a bit of laughing if you aren’t thoroughly immersed in the show’s concept. There’s quite a lot of eroticism within “True Blood,” but the high-speed maneuvers performed by vampires in the heat of passion may take you out of the moment.
Every episode of “True Blood” isn’t scintillating from start to finish. Despite those cliffhangers, there’s a fair amount of slow and steady plot development which will likely bore those who came to see blood, but the progression of the characters and the storyline really begins to build at about the halfway point of the season, and from Episode Seven onward, the momentum is like a freight train, due in no small part to guest star turns by Stephen Root, Lizzy Caplan, Zeljko Ivanek, and Michelle Forbes. It’s also notable that, for as much time as we see Sookie dealing with her life, the vampire side of things – particularly the club known as Fangtasia , run by vampire lawman Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) – always seems to be much more interesting. Perhaps we’ll see more of them in Season Two?
All told, vampire aficionados will almost certainly devour “True Blood” with a lustful passion. Those less inclined to find romanticism in the undead will still likely enjoy the soap opera aspects of the series, such as Jason’s addictions, Tara’s battle to find love and to deal with her alcoholic mother, and Sam’s highly surprising back story. There’s depth here if you want to look for it, but you’ll be better served by tuning in and just enjoying the dark ride.
Special Features: HBO rarely lets down the fans of its shows, and given that vampire fans are a particularly persnickety bunch, you can bet that they made sure to cover their bonus material bases with “True Blood,” including six audio commentaries spread across the 12 episodes, with contributions from Ball, Paquin and Moyer. Fans will be most pleased, however, to see that the network has rounded up the promo material created to hype the show, including the mockumentary “In Focus: Vampires in America,” ads for Tru Blood (in English and French!), public service ads sponsored by Tru Blood (vampire dating services, vampire attorneys, etcetera), and ads for both pro- and anti-vampire rights. Funny stuff.